Monthly Archives: July 2013

Temptation is no Laughing Matter!!

Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! (ドウンタウンのガキの使いやあらへんで!!) is a popular Japanese variety show the name of which translates as “Downtown’s ‘This is no task for kids!!’”.  It is hosted by the comedic duos known as Downtown and Cocorico along with comedian Hōsei Yamasaki and features a variety of skits, games, and other antics.  Perhaps the most intense of these is the annual “no-laughing” batsu (punishment) game that the cast engages in to ring in the New Year.  During these games, the hosts undergo a 24-hour “training” session for some job (such as spy, reporter, or hotel man) during which they are strictly forbidden to laugh.  If they do laugh, they are immediately punished (usually with a swift whack to the posterior).  However, the “training” that they receive is a series of skits and set-ups designed for the sole purpose of making them laugh.  The winner is the one who receives the least number of punishments.  Needless to say, the final tallies are all always in the triple digits.

While the show primarily provides wild and often unpredictable entertainment, it also gives us a mirror of sorts that shows us how things turn out when we try to stop sinning using our own willpower.  Just as the hosts are told to stop laughing one day, we also are tempted to think that we can just decide to stop sinning.  The problem is that our decision is to stop sinning, not to submit to God, which is at the heart of the matter.  We cannot overcome sin except by God’s grace.  Without resting in this grace we keep ourselves at the mercy of sin just as the hapless hosts are at the mercy of the pranks and skits they encounter.  No matter how hard they try, they will inevitably break down and laugh.  Similarly, we can fight temptation as hard as we want, but it will always win in the end if we don’t have God in the equation.

James sums up this dynamic by writing:  “Therefore submit to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts you double-minded.  Lament and mourn and weep!  Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift your up.” (James 4:7-10)  Submission to God comes first and foremost.  When we humble ourselves before God, then and only then are we able to rely on His strength to resist the devil and temptation.  When we think about what James means by “Let your laughter be turned to mourning…” we shouldn’t be lead to the conclusion that being humble before God means that we should never laugh or be joyful.  Jesus presents what this humility is about in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. (Luke 18:9-14)  The tax collector who “went down to his house justified” sounds a lot like James’ description of humbling ourselves.  The key lies not in any particular emotional state, but in recognizing God as our savior, our justifier, rather than ourselves.  “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”

So it is that when we trust in God rather than ourselves, we meet with better results in avoiding sin than the Gaki members do in their ill-fated attempts to avoid laughter (and the subsequent punishments).


WTH 4 – The End

Over the last couple of weeks, we have considered what hell really is, how it fits with God’s holiness, and how we fit into the mix.  Now we return to our original question of how God, who is love, could also be the same, unchanging God who created hell.

God’s love for us is perfect, therefore, by definition, it is not half-hearted and He also desires for us to know and love Him to the fullest extent possible.  As long as there is sin in and around us, we will never be able to know and love God to our fullest potential.  Sin (unlike the sinner) is irredeemable and breeds only death.  This is where hell comes into play:  it is the result of God’s righteous anger and disgust towards sin with respect to His holiness.  But God’s holiness gives rise to love and mercy in addition to righteous indignation.  It is in holy love that Christ came to earth and offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world that we may be credited with His righteousness and spared the wrath of God laid up against us.  It is also holy love that motivates God to give us the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and walks alongside us; quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) revealing the things of God to us and interceding for us with “groanings which cannot be uttered.”

If we were to hazard a short answer the question we began with, it would be that God is holy.  In all things He is holy.  He is holy in love and in wrath, in mercy and in judgment.  Hell is the outworking of His holy wrath and judgment while the cross is the outworking of His holy love and mercy.  Everything about God is holy, which is why it is such a remarkable thing that He chooses to create and associate with us.

Many times, God’s holiness is something that we view as cold and alienating.  It is true that His being holy puts some distance between us and Him.  However, we must not forget that it is this same holiness that He is drawing us closer to as we grow and develop and Christians.  His holiness is not something that we ought to view negatively, as if it were some lifeless barrier.  Perhaps a better way to view it would be as the perfection of being that burns so hot and so bright that we cannot draw too close to it right now, for it burns up all that is unclean with unquenchable fire.  However, we nonetheless move towards it along the trail blazed for us by Christ, the firstborn from the dead, guided carefully and lovingly by the Holy Spirit.  This is, at least in part, why Christian growth is not a fast-moving affair.  It is like coming out of a dark room into the sunlight.  It takes time for our eyes to adjust to the brightness.  Likewise, our hearts and souls, after being warped by sin, must have time to be shaped and sanctified according to the righteousness we are credited with in Christ.

Why can God create a place as terrifying as hell and also perform the greatest act of love the world has and will ever know?   It is because He is “holy, holy, holy”.

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,

And present you faultless

Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,

To God our Savior,

Who alone is wise,

Be glory and majesty,

Dominion and power,

Both now and forever.

Amen.

-Jude 24-25

Practical questions:

  1. Have you ever thought of God’s holiness including His love or mercy?  Why or why not?
  2. How can putting God’s holiness at center-stage change our perceptions of the Old and New Testaments and how they fit together as a unified whole?

A challenge:

Set a timer for 15 minutes and spend that block of time reading, re-reading, thinking, and meditating on the passage from Jude above.  Let this reading and thinking lead you into prayer about whatever you are led to say to God.


WTH 3 – Divine Intervention

Last week’s topic was God’s holiness and why sin cannot exist with that holiness.  God deals with sin by disposing of it in hell.  Thus, we cannot take our sin to be with God.  The question we are left with is how we fit into the picture.  However, before we get to us, it is worth talking about angels.  The fallen angels were cast out of heaven when they rebelled against God and became sinful.  The ringleader of this detestable lot was none other than our adversary and accuser, Satan.  Now, when Satan and his ilk were cast out, it wasn’t merely being kicked to the curb.  Jesus states that He, “…saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10:18)  Dante Alighieri, in his epic poem, The Inferno, paints a humorous picture of the result of this bolt-like descent.  He places Satan at the very bottom of hell, where, after having performed the mother of all face-plants, he is buried up to his waist in ice, heels to the heavens.

In 2 Peter 2:4, we are reminded that God, “did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment”.  We often think of hell as a kingdom ruled by Satan.  However, this is simply not the case.  The Bible never speaks of Satan holding any kind of power or authority in hell.  Satan is sometimes described has being the ruler of this world, but not hell.  He may perhaps be the most notorious inmate, but he is certainly not the warden.  In the words of a preacher I once heard, “He’s down there soaking up the heat like everyone else!”

Thus is the state of the fallen angels and ours would be no different.  We, too, are marred by sin and it is not something that we can separate ourselves from.  We are incapable of living sinless lives.  Because of the sin we’re attached to, we find ourselves staring down the maw of hell.  Simply put, God is set apart from all unclean things, including us.  This however, is not the end of the story; it is at this point that God intervenes:

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

-Romans 5:6-8

In His death on the cross, Christ took upon Himself everything in us that is hellbound.

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

2 Corinthians 5:21

Additionally, He received the wrath of God laid up for us on account of our sin.

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our inequities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

-Isaiah 53:4-5

In doing this, our bounds to sin where severed and we are free to lay down our burden.

Christ’s work on the cross and continuing ministry as our great High Priest separates us from our sin so that we may be counted among the holy.  (This isn’t to say that we don’t still stumble into sin, hence His continuing ministry.)  Additionally, God makes His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and carry out the sanctification and conversion of our hearts.

God looks upon our state, our inability to stand before His holiness on our own, and is filled with compassion.  He gave His only begotten Son so that we may be reconciled to Him and stand before His holiness, not by our own strength, but by His.  It is God who casts into hell, but it is also God who saves from hell.  To get a more complete handle on the love that God has shown us in Christ, consider this:  “For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham.  Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:16-18)  Christ did not die for Satan who is described with the powerful images of a dragon and a roaring lion, or for the other fallen angels described as stars.  Rather He died for us, who have frames that are weak like dust.  With this in view, we can truly say with the Psalmist:  “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him?  For you made him a little lower than the angels, and you have crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:4-5)

Practical Questions:

  1. What are some ways that we are led to think of Satan as a ruler and king over hell?
  2. What dimensions does the idea of defilement and uncleanness add to our view of sin?
  3. What does it say about God’s character that He takes action to bridge the gap we are unable to?